Purchasing an RV in 8 Easy Steps

Purchasing a recreational vehicle can be an exciting experience, but it can also be overwhelming. Purchasing an RV is a more complicated process than buying a car.

Cleaning your RV will take some time. But taking care of your RV is an investment that can pay off if you choose to resell in the future. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newmar Dutch Star Class A Diesel Pusher motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you are new to the RV lifestyle, you owe it to yourself to become well informed before jumping in. Uninformed RV consumers are likely to make unwise choices financially, emotionally, and regarding safety.

Purchasing a recreational vehicle is largely a personal choice. Depending on a variety of factors including space requirements, towing facilities, budget, driver comfort level, and lifestyle preferences, select the type of RV that best meets your needs.

The following steps are intended to guide you through the planning and purchase of an RV.

1. Define intended use of RV

How do you plan to use your RV? What type of camping you will be doing? Weekend warrior? Summer vacation? Dry camping? RV park with full hookups? Snowbird? Full timer RVer?

Working out of your RV?

2. Become familiar with RV types

The two major categories of recreational vehicles are motorhomes (motorized) and towables (towed behind the car, van, or pickup).

Sports utility RVs (also called toy haulers) feature a built-in garage for hauling bikes, ATVs, and sports equipment, and are available in both towable and motorized units.

Considering the RV lifestyle? Try renting before laying down the cash. Camping in a rental Class C motorhome at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Considering the RV lifestyle? Try renting before laying down the cash. Camping in a rental Class C motorhome at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Motorized units consist of three classes: A, B, and C.

Large and roomy Class A motorhomes offer the luxuries of a traditional home. Available with a gas or diesel engine, they are ideal for full-time living, family vacations, tailgating, and weekend excursions.

Considered to be the most economical to own and operate, Class B motorhomes are also referred to as van campers or conversion vans.

Built on a truck chassis, Class C motoromes have many of the same creature comforts as a Class A, but in a smaller package. This makes them more maneuverable and easier to park.

Towable units consist of travel trailers, fifth wheel trailers, truck campers, and expandable or pop-up camping trailers.

Convenient for long-term travel as well as short trips, travel trailers are easy to tow with a minivan, SUV, or truck.

Fifth wheels have a split-level floor plan and offer a home-like atmosphere. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fifth wheels have a split-level floor plan and offer a home-like atmosphere. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Easily identified by a raised extension that sits over and locks into the bed of a truck, fifth wheels have a split-level floor plan and offer a home-like atmosphere. Like travel trailers, fifth wheels are towed behind, but because a fifth wheel locks into the bed of a pickup and puts more weight over the rear axle, it is considerably more stable.

A truck camper sits in the back of a pickup truck, and because it doesn’t make use of the hitch, the truck can still tow a trailer or boat.

A pop-up trailer’s fold-up, lightweight design makes it easy for most trucks, SUVs, and even cars, to tow for providing the perfect RV for first-time users.

There are pros and cons for each RV type. For most people the choice is largely influenced by budget and the intended use of the RV. There’s an RV for every taste and budget.

3. List RV amenities

Create a list of amenities that you would like to have in an RV based on your selected lifestyle. Divide the list into “must have” and “optional” sections.

4. Create a budget

At this point you should have a rough idea of your desired RV lifestyle and the specifics are coming into focus. Now is the time to create a budget.

Knowing what you are able to afford and willing to spend will save you time by narrowing down your choices. An RV lifestyle can be relatively inexpensive or it may require a small fortune. Where you end up depends on your financial abilities and careful planning.

5. Choose RV type

Decisions, decisions. Before you get down to the nitty gritty of interior fabric color, AC-generator size, fixed dinette or freestanding table, and many other choices, you may face a much larger question: Do you buy a motorhome and tow a dinghy vehicle, or do you buy a trailer and a tow vehicle?

6. Choose RV size

Airstream Interstate Class B motorhome

Airstream Interstate Class B motorhome

After choosing the RV type, determine the size based on your needs and budget. Consider overall length, number of slideouts, and weight.

If you chose a towable unit such as a travel trailer or fifth wheel, determine the size of vehicle required to tow it. Proper sizing of the tow vehicle is a critical component of safe RV towing. Most often this vehicle is a full size pickup truck, but properly equipped SUVs and vans, are capable of towing small trailers.

7. The Rental Option

One very effective way to help make a purchase decision is to rent the RV type you’re interested in and see if it’s what you had in mind. Motorhome rentals are available everywhere, and while trailer rentals are harder to find, they are available. Renting lets you experience RV travel and living without making a huge permanent investment up front. A rental is considerably cheaper than making a purchase that you might later regret.

8. The Big Decision

You have a lot of decisions to make when choosing between a motorhome and dinghy or a tow rig and trailer. By reviewing all of the possibilities and paying close attention to your family’s needs and desires, you can make an effective RV choice that will facilitate many happy adventures.

Buying an RV is a major decision. But if you have a sense of adventure, a desire to explore, and a willingness to find your own fun, RVing might be just what you need. Do it!

Worth Pondering…

Never forget your dreams.

—Corczak

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